Thursday, June 30, 2011

Things That Make Me Happy #392

Nice foreign sports cars.  Today, on my way to work, I walked past a bright cherry red Ferrari...very, very nice, but I still lust in my heart for a black or silver Porsche 911...

Saturday, June 25, 2011

New Firing!

Just finished unloading, and by the looks of it I have a wood/soda kiln... but I really don't! (Just gas reduction and an abundant supply of wood ash, plus some soda ash solution in a spray bottle!) Here are some pictures:

Here's my control pot- same glaze (Malcolm Davis Carbon Trap Shino, + 6% Redart), just with no additional salt, soda, or wood ash

Other Studio Stuff...

The May/June Classes are over, now for a week of cleaning the studio before the next session starts!

The teapot experiment is coming along nicely so far- no cracks, and I slipped it yesterday.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011


There was such a gorgeous sunset last night on the way home that I had to stop and take a picture!  I love the velvety green-black of soybean fields when back-lit at twilight.  (Sooo Illinoisan!)

Monday, June 20, 2011

Moving Forward...Slowly

Slow forward motion this last week; all geared up to throw like crazy, but pretty much zippo inspiration on what to do, thus instead I puttered around doing a back burner idea, trimming, and finally getting to a major project that I’d been putting off.  The clay classes are winding down for this two month session, this last week it was getting all the students to finish trimming everything in time for the last bisque, classes this coming week will be a glazing extravaganza.  The most interesting item of the week happened Thursday evening.  One of my co-workers from the Conservation Lab, who just graduated with an MFA and is heading off to be a K-8 art teacher for the summer, came over to the pottery for a two hour crash course in beginner ceramics and how to fire an electric kiln.  Doing handbuilding was rather fun, my friend did very well, especially on slab work and pinch pots, though the coil pots were a little sad (mine included- that was always a weak spot) if acceptable- the technique was good...the aesthetics, not so much.  As for Electric Kilns 101, I think she was rather intimidated- from the ‘it’s big/hot/expensive and I don’t want to break it/melt it/burn the school down’ view point.  Somehow I have the feeling that she’ll be calling for help if or when she has to fire one!

Major Project du Jour

A few (okay, I’ll be honest, over 6) months ago I inherited this very lightly used raku kiln from one of my studiomates who, after a string of disasters, decided that 20” raku platters were no longer in his future. Not that I have a desire to take up raku again in any serious way, but there’s no way that I’m passing up some free kaowool.  Well, after several months of cold, ice, wind and snow, it warmed up, and Michael started making noises about wanting the kiln out front to disappear.  This last Saturday I finally got around to deconstructing it for transport. (This photo is from halfway through deconstruction, after snipping out all the support wires, and just before flipping it and peeling out the kaowool.)  Despite knowing better, I still stupidly wore short sleeves while doing this job, and afterward had a rather prickly afternoon.  Should have worn long sleeves and brought a change of clothes.  Idiot.

While I was having lunch on Friday I was trying to think and sketch through my case of potter’s block, when I started thinking about alternative solutions to a design problem that I’ve had floating around in my head since December or so; namely, how could I transpose the soft, figurative, Venus-like cup form that I’ve been working with lately into a teapot.  Well, I finally came up with the sketch on the right.  The body, lid and spout were the easy parts- the handle, however was far more tricky. For weight and balance considerations I knew that it had to be hollow-built, but slab building in this wonderfully crack-prone and troublesome porcelain is something to be avoided if at all possible.  Nevertheless, I wanted sharp edges, so that’s what I did.  (Spray, wrap up for a week, and sloooow dry, knock on wood.)  After finishing the handle, I realized that the totally rounded spout made the pot look un-balanced, resulting in that getting some tweaking.  So, maybe not totally zippo inspiration, but maybe more helpful if it had occurred a tetch earlier... Oh well, this teapot design will give me something to work on next Fri./Sat..  ...Besides washing the floor, that is!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Ah, The Joys of a Liquid Diet...

...And before you start leaping to conclusions, the circumstances requiring the liquid diet (namely the other two wisdom teeth) preclude the consumption of bourbon and other alcoholic treats!  Thus we (painfully) arrive at the soup du jour:

(Note the pureed version I'm getting, tastefully packaged!)


1 Red Onion, minced

2 large Sweet Red Peppers, minced (Not Bell Peppers.  The ones I used are mild, with just a small amount of heat.)

1 Tbs Cilantro, minced

1 Cucumber, peeled and finely diced

8-9 large fresh Roma tomatoes, pureed

Juice of three Limes (I used two regular Limes, and two Key Limes, which are sweeter.)

1 large Avocado,  diced

Combine all ingredients in a bowl, stir well and chill before serving.  Serves 4-6, depending on serving size.

My mom noted that it was even more phenomenal when topped with Minneola segments (Tangerine-like citrus), and a little lemon juice.

Cream of Asparagus for dinner...

Friday, June 10, 2011

More Therapy...

This was Wednesday night’s baking therapy, A.K.A. breakfasts for the rest of the week. It’s really too hot to bake (94 degrees!), but that’s what exhaust fans were invented for! (When it’s this hot I really should pre-chill the flour, so as to keep the butter cool until it hits the oven- keeping the butter cold keeps the scones tender and not tough and doughy.)

Papaya Almond Scones

2 C. Flour

¼ C. Sugar

1 ½ Tsp. Baking Powder

¼ Tsp. Cinnamon

¼ Tsp Nutmeg (With a pinch of Mace included, I use ground nutmeg with the aril [mace] left on it.)

4 Tbs. Cold Butter

2/3 C. Dried Papaya chunks

½ C. Almonds, chopped

1 Egg

6 oz. tub Whole Milk Cream-Top Vanilla Yogurt

Pre-heat your oven to 350F. Mix flour, sugar, baking powder and spices together in a bowl, then cut or rub in the butter until like oatmeal. Mix in the papaya and almonds. Make a well in the center and beat together the egg and the yogurt before stirring in the dry ingredients, blending everything just shy of mixed. Turn the dough out on the counter and knead very briefly, just to finish mixing and even the consistency. Shape into an 8” disk, and then cut with a sharp knife into eight wedges. Place the scones 1’’ apart on a cookie sheet covered with baking parchment and put in the hot oven to bake for 30 minutes, or until set and just browning. Makes 8.

Today at the pottery- loading the kiln...probably a couple weeks before this one gets fired though...  Also lately I've been mentally gearing up for two sessions at Penland in the next 6 months, and thinking about ideas and forms that I will want to work on while I'm there: for one thing, I can't wait to see what these new forms I've been doing will look like with some flashing slip and some salt and soda, but beyond that I'll be interested to see how the big thin bowls will stand up to the warping potential of soda, I'll try to make thin bottles consistently, stretch myself to work bigger, but not clunkier, and to see if I have indeed gone over to the dark side of porcelain (I don't think I have totally done so, so don't start gloating yet, Joce.) 

Monday, June 6, 2011

Things that make me happy #391

Not something silly, but serious this time: On June first civil unions became a legal option in Illinois, a long time coming.  Congratulations to my friend Tedra who was finally able to tie the legal knot with her partner Suzanne, many years after their wedding!

Saturday, June 4, 2011

The Rest of the Metals, And Then Some Therapy...

Here’s the last of the metals from this spring...

These are two separate Parkland Student Art Show entries; the necklace and earring are from this year’s show, the pin is from last year.  I made the pin last spring, with the intent of making earrings and a chain of leaves and pearls at some future date, when I had more metal and some definite design onto the back burner.  Well, last summer I lucked out at a garage sale and cleared about 20+ ounces of Sterling (plus some tools and gem rough) for $20 from some people who had no idea what they were selling (sterling was around $14/oz at the time, so it was worth over $300 for the metal alone).  This really freed me from the materials standpoint this past semester, and let me play.  After much thought, this spring I decided to ditch my original leaf-chain idea in favor of a simple chain with a massive leafy focal point.  While I was finishing the two branch forms I was thinking about how I was going to put them together after casting, (they were too big to fit in one casting flask joined) when I realized that this piece needed a central stone, which the branches would then frame.  After rooting around in my rock box, I found that one of the wild horse jaspers I had was the perfect shape, and had very appropriate voila!

This piece is an extension of an idea- from the single magnolia pin I did earlier in the semester.  This piece was commissioned by someone who wanted a larger pin with multiple flowers, but in the same spirit as the earlier pin.

This last piece is my final stone-setting sample project with Robert- channel setting.  Having done this little toy, I now have several ideas for elaborate ribbon patterned pins and necklaces to be done in the future- with lots of cubic zirconia!  The rocks in this are as follows: the main stone is a green amethyst, the smaller channel set ones are simulated alexandrite.

As my friend Jo Zalea has pointed out many times, baking is very therapeutic.  (Her strand convenor at Durham U. asks questions about her mental state whenever she brings in goodies!) My personal favorite form of baking therapy is scones, though other quick breads will do in a pinch. Here is my all-time favorite scone recipe, White Chocolate Apricot Walnut Scones, followed by Thursday’s baking experiment.

White Chocolate Apricot Walnut Scones

2 C. Flour

3 Tbs. Sugar

2 Tsp. Baking Powder

Pinch of Salt

4 Tbs. Cold Butter

8 oz. White Chocolate, coarsely chopped (Moonstruck Chocolatier’s white chocolate is best, Baker’s is acceptable- you need one with a stronger flavor than Ghirardelli or any of the chips commonly available, which are too sugary.)

14 Dried Apricots, coarsely chopped

½ C. Walnuts, chopped

1 Egg

6 oz. tub Brown Cow Cream-Top Vanilla Yogurt  (If you can’t get Brown Cow, which is less acidic than other brands, at least be sure to get a whole milk vanilla yogurt: the cream provides some of the fat in the recipe, and the vanilla adds flavor.)

Pre-heat your oven to 350°F.  Mix flour, sugar, baking powder and salt together in a bowl, then cut or rub in the butter until like oatmeal.  Mix in the white chocolate, apricots and walnuts.  Make a well in the center and beat together the egg and the yogurt before stirring in the dry ingredients, blending everything just shy of mixed. (Add a little milk or cream if the dough seems too dry, you want to be able to handle it without it being sticky, but it shouldn’t be crumbly.) Turn the dough out on the counter and knead very briefly, just to finish mixing and even the consistency. Shape into a 9” disk, and then cut with a sharp knife into eight wedges.  Place the scones 1’’ apart on a cookie sheet covered with baking parchment and put in the hot oven to bake for 15-20 minutes, or until set and just browning.  Makes 8.

Almond Cornbread

This is a standard cornbread with a whisper of sweetness and almond flavor, good with tea or breakfast.  If you like things sweet, then double the sugar; if you like things richer, then double the butter; if you like things decadent, then do both...and take up jogging.  I make my own millet flour and grind the almonds with my handy-dandy coffee mill, which is reserved for everything but coffee.

I C. Millet Flour

¾ C. Fine-Grind Cornmeal

¼ C. (Chinese) Dried Almonds, ground (I found these at Am-Ko, one of the oriental groceries here in C-U.  They’re sold blanched, are about the size and shape of the fingernail on your index finger, are more brittle than regular almonds, and taste like the almond flavor in the almond cookies you get at Chinese restaurants.)

2 Tsp. Baking Powder

Pinch of Salt

¼ C. Sugar

1/8 Tsp. Almond Extract

3 Eggs

3 Tbs Butter, melted

1/3 C. Milk

Pre-heat your oven to 350°F, and butter a 9” pie pan, or a standard loaf pan.  In a bowl, combine thoroughly the millet flour, cornmeal, ground almonds, baking powder, salt and sugar.  Make a well in the center, and beat together the eggs and milk, and then drizzle in the melted butter while continuing to beat.  Once the liquids are well blended, quickly mix in the dry ingredients until just smooth.  Pour the batter into the buttered pan and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until set and just browning.  Once you remove the pan from the oven, flip it over and set it on the counter to cool for 10-15 minutes, keeping it elevated by setting the rim on two other pots, or do as I did, and use two butter knives.  The idea is to allow the bread to retain some of the moisture that would otherwise be let off as steam, not to mention that this steaming action further softens the cornmeal, and helps to loosen the bread from the pan for easier removal when serving.

This I what I'll be doing for my studio time for the rest of the day... glazing!